By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Yukon residents must understand they are in a war with an infectious disease. And they are on the front lines – whether they like it or not.
That’s the message of a Yukon retirement community administrator with vast experience preparing for and responding to a crisis – the most recent being the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re drafted into this thing,” said Don Blose, CEO of Spanish Cove Retirement Village in Yukon. “And not by choice. If everyone – in our community, at Spanish Cove, in Yukon, and across the state – can all pull together and follow these guidelines that are being distributed, then we’re going to be OK.
“We have technology that will help us find treatments and help us find vaccines in a matter of time. So there’s an end in sight.”
Spanish Cove Retirement Village is “putting its best foot forward” in response to this infectious disease pandemic, according to Blose.
Blose came to Spanish Cove in 2012 after 12 years as Oklahoma’s state immunization director. He had considerable practice with emergency response during 11 of those years.
That previous experience is one reason Blose has approached the current crisis with calmness.
“Panic is part of every emergency situation,” he said. “It can be a helpful thing in some instances because it tells you what you really need to be watching for.
“Like this one, we’ve seen a lot of panic; people stocking up on groceries and toilet paper and things they felt like they needed to have to survive.”
With the COVID-19 outbreak, experts have encouraged people to practice social distancing and not congregate in large groups. The disease has its greatest impact on the older population and those with immuno-compromised systems.
At Yukon’s Spanish Cove campus, all activities have been canceled and the health facility has been closed to visitors except in end-of-life matters. Residents and staff are encouraged to stay a safe distance from each other and practice proper hygiene.
“Our residents understand,” Blose said. “Many of them have actually lived through something like this, so that’s an advantage for us. In their lifetimes, they’ve dealt with different types of pandemics like polio. We’re a lot better today than we were then in terms of our knowledge of how these diseases work.”
Residents are encouraged to keep checking on their neighbors and loved ones through phone calls and video messages.
Spanish Cove has 320 residents and 180 employees who are advised to follow best practices. Every person who enters a building on campus is screened to ensure they haven’t been in an endemic area and have no signs or symptoms.
“Our goal is that we have no outbreak on our campus,” Blose said. “There’s no way to perfectly ensure that will happen, especially with a disease like this.
“It’s not as infectious as some of the other diseases that we’ve seen through history. The measles is probably the most infectious one we’ve ever seen. … The mortality rates for measles is probably about the same as this one. Any of these diseases can kill somebody. And that scares us.”
If the virus spreads in the community, Spanish Cove will enact further measures to tighten its campus even more – including plans to have a single delivery point.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the federal government has provided ample funding to help states prepare for catastrophic events.
With his background, Blose has been in a “situation room” many times.
“Most of the practice was with terrorism, bioterrorism or natural disasters,” he said. “At one point in my early career when we were still testing everything out, we actually had a real event.”
There was a critical shortage of flu vaccine in 2005-06 when the largest flu vaccine manufacturer lost all its supply. Blose was named the state’s incident commander for that response.
“Our job – like it is right now – was to deal with the situation, to promote calm and to coordinate what assets that we did have to the people who needed it the most,” he said. “We were directing any flu vaccine we did have to people who were older or had immuno-compromised systems.”
That crisis became a turning point for Oklahoma and the country as officials began promoting hand washing and sanitizing. It was after that event that hand sanitizers started appearing in businesses and restaurants.
“There’s a lot of good that has happened with past practices, and we’re going to learn a lot more from COVID-19 on best responses to an infectious disease that you can’t see,” Blose said. “You don’t know who’s infected because some people are asymptomatic; they don’t have a fever or signs that you can recognize. That makes this response a lot more difficult.”
Blose has great faith in the steps that federal and state government agencies have taken in response to the coronavirus outbreak. He referred to all the “good messaging going out” to the public encouraging citizens to stay home if possible while limiting visits and being around people.
“That’s a struggle for us as human beings, because we’re all social,” he said.
INCIDENT COMMAND STRUCTURE
To have the best possible response during this crisis, Spanish Cove has invoked the incident command structure. This structure is used by national, state and local agencies; along with organizations, schools and businesses.
“It’s the best resource we can use to coordinate our efforts, so we try to follow that,” Blose said. “It’s a good mechanism also to coordinate with other local and state layers, which we’ve done at Spanish Cove with COVID-19. It is not a system that will create heroes, but it is a way to coordinate. Everyone has a role to play, from the top down.”
The goal in using the incident command structure is to have the best response possible to the situation.
It’s impossible to have a perfect response to any emergency, according to Blose.
“What we’re doing at Spanish Cove – and what the state and every other group is doing – is we’re trying to look at least two or three steps down the road,” he said. “We’re looking for triggers that will help us mitigate or tighten up the response.”
Using the incident command structure, Spanish Cove staff meets every morning.
“We talk about what’s going on, we talk about potential barriers and we talk about things that are a step or two ahead,” Blose said. “We realize our residents are really active people and it’s tough for them to be isolated and not to be part of an activity.
“We want to do what we can to take care of our residents – and our staff – to make sure they know they’re contributing in a very important way to keeping our campus as free of this disease as possible.”
Spanish Cove’s chief administrator has great confidence in what is being done – both in Yukon and across the state and country.
His message to everyone is to stay as calm as possible, to be alert and to trust in the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control, Oklahoma State Health Department and the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
While serving as Oklahoma’s state immunization director, Blose attended meetings and participated in conference calls with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
“Dr. Fauci was recognized back in my time as an important leader for infectious diseases,” Blose said. “He has a lot of common sense. He’s a straight shooter and tells it like it is.
“We don’t want people to be scared. We want people to be knowledgeable. Dr. Fauci is doing a great job conveying those messages.”